ABOUT TODAY’S EPISODE | ERICK LAINE TRIBUTE
No one in the history of Cutco has changed more lives than Erick Laine. Erick was the leader of the team that purchased Cutco from ALCOA, and he oversaw the company’s transformation from a “little knife factory” in Olean NY to the largest cutlery company in North America. He helped create a global presence for Cutco in other countries, and simultaneously helped grow the Vector Marketing sales arm that has impacted hundreds of thousands of people.
Erick was born in 1933 in the Soviet Republic of Karelia, where his Finnish parents had found work. His family fled Stalin’s purges, eventually emigrating to Wisconsin. Erick graduated from the University of Wisconsin before starting his role with ALCOA, which eventually led him to Cutco and to Olean. Erick Laine passed away on December 1st, 2020, leaving behind an incalculable legacy.
Coming together to honor Erick in this episode are Jim Stitt Sr., John Whelpley, Mike McFadden, Joe Cardillo, and CLSK host Dan Casetta.
Erick Laine Full Bio …
Erkki Johannes Komulainen was born on August 3, 1933, in the Soviet Republic of Karelia, where his Finnish parents had found work during the Depression. Josef Stalin began purging the Finns in Karelia shortly after Erkki was born, and the family fled by rowing across Lake Ladoga to Finland. That’s 85 miles across, almost the distance across Lake Michigan.
When Erkki was four years old, his family rowed across another watery border, from the Canadian shore of the Sault Ste. Marie locks to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and they ultimately settled in Milwaukee, WI.
Erick, as he became known, started kindergarten without knowing English but quickly picked it up. He took up speed skating, winning Wisconsin’s Silver Skates Championship. At age 13, he paddled the Boundary Waters of Canada for six weeks with three friends.
He graduated from Washington High School in 1951 and was admitted to the University of Wisconsin. At the University of Wisconsin, Erick joined Sigma Phi fraternity, was a ski jumper on Wisconsin’s ski team and vice-president of his senior class. He graduated in 1955 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering, and was immediately hired by ALCOA. A major life milestone was in 1959 when he was granted U.S. citizenship.
Erick rose the ranks at ALCOA, while starting a family and having four children. They were an active family, playing tennis, skiing, and sailing. In 1977, ALCOA sent Erick to one of its subsidiaries in Olean, New York: ALCAS Cutlery Corporation. ALCOA charged Erick with assessing the company, with the expectation that it would be put up for sale.
But Erick had something else in mind. He saw tremendous potential in the “little knife factory on State Street,” and he built amazing relationships with the people there, including and perhaps most notably Jim Stitt.
Erick mapped out a different future for the company, assembling an Executive team, and then leading a buyout of the company from ALCOA in 1982. As president, CEO, and Chairman of ALCAS (which became CUTCO Corporation in 2009), Erick oversaw the transformation of the “little knife factory” to the largest cutlery company in North America, created a global presence with Cutco in other countries, and simultaneously grew the Vector Marketing sales arm that has impacted hundreds of thousands of people. Even as the company grew, Erick greeted every person who worked there by name — and asked after family members by name, as well. He retired from CUTCO on January 1, 2008.
Prior to moving to Olean, Erick had become a single dad, and in Olean, he had the good fortune of meeting Marianne Letro, a daughter of Olean and graduate of St. Bonaventure University. Marianne and Erick were married on May 5, 1979, and Marianne played an important role in the success of the company over the years, hosting innumerable company events during Erick’s leadership of the company — and by providing a welcoming home for Erick’s children and their families.
Erick served on numerous industry, corporate, and community boards, but he was especially committed to supporting higher education. He established college scholarships for the children of employees at Cutco and funded scholarships at the University of Wisconsin. He led the successful campaign to create the Cattaraugus County Campus of Jamestown Community College in Olean, served as a trustee for Alfred and St. Bonaventure universities, and with Marianne was instrumental in developing the Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure.
Erick loved Olean, New York. He was a director of Olean General Hospital, Cattaraugus Economic Development Zone, and Olean Area Chamber of Commerce, which honored him with an award for the person who best embodies the enterprising spirit for the greater Olean community.
Erick had a generous heart, the uncommon virtue of being an optimist, unfailing belief in other people, and the leadership to create opportunities for so many of us to this day. There’s a Finnish word “Sisu” which can be described as a combination of integrity, courage, and tenacity that is passionately and purposefully directed. Erick Laine lived with great Sisu.
He passed away on December 1st, 2020, and is survived by his wife Marianne, his brother Tom, 4 children, 11 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren, and a large extended family, both in the US and in Finland.
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